Posts Tagged PaaS

Cloud Computing: Not Always a Silver Lining

The Happy Promise

Cloud computing comes with an attractive promise – much like the sun shining on lovely white fluffy clouds. Life's good in the cloud the vendor will say. No more infrastructure to purchase, host and maintain. And with a cloud application platform like Salesforce.com no more developers either as all it takes is "clicks not code". Sounds wonderful. And it always is at the start.

Clouds sized

The Reality

Building complex integrated business solutions continues to be complex, especially when the landscape includes legacy monolith systems unaccustomed to "talking" to anything outside the firewall boundary.

Managing the evolution of an enterprise database is also a challenge as business needs change over time. With Salesforce it is incredibly easy to add new entities to your organisation's "database" or add new fields to entities already there. Add-on applications can easily be introduced from the Salesforce AppExchange – each of which adds to the overall system complexity.

The law of entropy (the second law of thermodynamics) applies here – an isolated system will spontaneously evolve towards maximum disorder.

The faster a cloud platform allows changes to be made then the faster the pace towards disorder will occur.

The Common Journey

Particularly with Salesforce.com the journey starts with business stakeholders becoming exasperated with the speed of their IT department. They engage Salesforce and within days their CRM system is up and running. So easy. In hindsight perhaps too easy.

Initially Salesforce is a clean well-structured system without back-office integration. Then the changes start and the clouds start changing their colour. New entities and fields are freely added to the database. Integrations are established with back office systems. Add-on applications are installed.

Entropy kicks in and the march towards disorder begins.

Eventually the integrated system becomes challenged with data synchronisation issues and fields which contradict themselves (should that be an opt-in or opt-out to stay compliant with anti-spam legislation?). Ownership of the system moves progressively from a front-office business unit over to IT. Who for the most part of been kept out of the journey to date and don't understand how clouds work – other than they look black and ugly and threatening.

The pace of evolution slows or stops and the main point of why the cloud based system was introduced is lost in distant history.

What can be Done?

The good news is this outcome is not pre-ordained and need not happen.

Here are some things to consider early in the journey to avoid ending up in a stormy situation:

  1. Accept building complex integrating technology solutions remains complex even with cloud computing and success will require skilled IT professionals to be involved (regardless of whether the vendor assures you that IT won't be needed and it's best not to engage them).
  2. Accept that database design is a specialist skill and establish good data governance from the beginning.
  3. Provide adequate training and mentoring to the group tasked with administering the platform especially if they come from a business rather than technology background.
  4. Realise the law of entropy applies and there is a need to proactively push back against the drift towards chaos. All changes need to be thought through carefully.

Storm Disbursement

If you find yourself no longer living the blue-sky dream with Salesforce.com and need help to disperse the storm clouds which have accumulated during the first few years of use then I'd encourage you to get in contact. After a detailed current state assessment of your Salesforce organisation and integrations it will be possible to plot a path back to the land of the fluffy white clouds again. It may take a while to unpick the chaos but it is always possible.

Richard Clarke, Salesforce Architect and Integration Specialist
Contact me via email: richard.clarke@fuseit.com

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